The Legend: Erv Kroeker

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2012 02:00

Erv Kroeker; photo by Ben Hicks

Erv Kroeker wasn’t always a legend among Mother Lode cyclists.

He wasn’t always the wiry, fit and age-defying marvel that he is at 71. There was a time when the more than 40 bones he has broken in numerous falls were uncracked and intact. And years ago his still-patient wife, Barbara, was willing to let her irrepressible husband go out and race with guys half his age.

“Now she thinks I’m suicidal,” confesses Kroeker, a longtime Sonora Regional Medical Center nursing supervisor who retired last year. “Next time you fall, she told me, don’t call home. Have someone else take you to the emergency room.”

Although stopping short of admitting to a death wish, the Don Pedro resident concedes that he may not be the most careful rider in the world. But he has scaled back. Responding to his wife’s ultimatum, he no longer races bikes.

“Now I do Iron Man triathlons,” says Kroeker. That’s 2.4 miles of swimming, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon – which may not sound like much of a concession to either his wife or to common sense.

Because he doesn’t run as fast as he once did, such triathlons can take him 15 hours or more.

“I’m an OK swimmer and I’m pretty good on the bike, but I just BS my way through the run,” he says. “The marathon might take me six hours. But it is what it is.”

Obviously, no doctor with even a casual concern about malpractice suits would recommend the Erv Kroeker regimen. There are less painful, less risky and far more enjoyable options for fitness.

“It’s not fun,” Kroeker says of his workouts. “I’m not out there to smell the flowers. I ride hard; it’s not recreational.”

When he was 40, Kroeker noticed that people his age were starting to come into the hospital emergency room with heart attacks. “I didn’t want that to be me,” he says.

So he overhauled his life: He began eating better, joined a fitness club and turned bicycling from a casual hobby into something of an obsession. By the early 1990s he was training several thousand miles a year and riding 40- and 60-mile bike races, but there was still a problem.

“I was an alcoholic,” he says. “I got drunk the night before one of the races, and a bunch of the other riders dropped me on a hill. I realized that if I wanted to be a serious rider, I couldn’t drink any more.”

So he quit, turning his addictive personality toward cycling alone.

And, no, he’s never gone to the emergency room with a heart attack. But he has been there with fractured ribs, arms, shoulders and, after a particularly bad fall, a broken back. “And my helmet has probably saved my life a half-dozen times,” he adds.

So is Kroeker a reckless, careless kamikaze on the road?

“I never thought so,” he says. “But I do crash more than most people. Maybe I could be more careful.”

Wipeouts notwithstanding, Kroeker is trim and healthy. “I take an aspirin and a vitamin a day,” he boasts. “That’s all.”

In his spare time, he helps impart the joys of cycling to youngsters through Bikes for Tykes, in which he and other volunteers repair donated bikes and, each Christmas, give them to Tuolumne Countykids who can’t afford new ones.

With 100 triathlons, 50 or 60 century rides, a decade of Death Rides and well over 50,000 training miles behind him, Kroeker has no plans to give up the regimen that’s kept him in such good shape.

“I might miss three days, but I never miss more,” he says.

So, assuming he doesn’t break 40 more bones, Erv Kroeker just might have another 50,000 miles ahead.

© 2012 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2012 02:00